Nicholson, S. (1995) Management of the Digital Library: New Techniques for a New Technology. Available online at

Management of the Digital Library:

New Techniques for a New Technology

Scott Nicholson

Copyright July 13, 1995


The digital library is a user-based library service that seamlessly connects users to the information they need electronically, regardless of source. The new technologies and higher costs cause management new difficulties in five areas: planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling. The purpose of this report is to collect these problems from the literature and offer solutions when possible.

The three largest problems facing the manager of digital library services are cost recovery, copyright issues, and training. Mangers must determine a way to recover the constant costs incurred by the technologies used to run the digital library through increased funding or charging users. Until copyright issues are dealt with, no copywritten material can be placed in a digital library. Constant training requires a commitment of money and time, yet is the most important change a manager can make to guarantee the success of the digital library. These issues must not be avoided, and require managers to re-think traditional management strategies. In order to handle these and other problems and successfully manage a digital library, managers require new tools for a new technology.

The ideal digital library is a user-centered service that seamlessly connects users to the information they need electronically, regardless of source. In this state of transition to introduce digital library services, traditional libraries offer support in the way of personnel, funding, information, and management for these digital libraries. Management of a digital library differs from the management of a traditional library in many ways. "Factors such as distance from customers, specific product/service delivery mechanisms, technology, and organization must be planned and managed differently, but the underling concepts of customer-focused management are not profoundly changed" (Powell, 1994, p. 260). The purpose of this paper is to present a review of management problems caused by the digital library and possible solutions in the areas of the five basic parts of management - planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling (Stueart & Moran, 1987).


The main problem in the planning process for the manager of the digital library is the creation of long-range plans and establishment of evaluation standards. Long-range plans must be made without direct reference to rapidly-evolving technology in order to be applicable over time. As most technologies have a life of three years, a five-year plan can be difficult to follow beyond the third year. In the creation of plans, library managers must "differentiate between short-term survival and long-term evolution" (Saunders, 1995, p. 42). Therefore, successful long-range plans will be flexible enough to encompass whatever new technologies are needed by the library, without tying the library down to current types of technology (Stahl, 1993).


Organizational problems center around the merging of roles traditionally filled by public and technical services. These difficulties stem from the changing technologies and resulting changes in capabilities of the systems and the support then needed. According to Wahlda and Schiller (1993), "new organizational structures will be needed if libraries are going to be successful in an electronic, networked environment. Libraries will need structures which allow for increased flexibility and innovation and which are more responsive to change than at present" (p. 16). These new organizational structures will be decentralized, with leadership and expertise found throughout the structure in order to quickly adapt to change (Wahlda & Schiller, 1993).

As virtual users will require on-line help which may involve technical details along with more traditional reference questions, technical and public services can not be considered separate entities (Wahlda & Schiller, 1993). A group of technically-minded staff members who are trained in public services will be needed to bridge the gap between the service groups. Another solution is to break up the task-based departments and reorganize the staff into teams by subject. "Subject team approaches to work are already in place in libraries at the University of Illinois, Indiana University, University of Iowa, and at Yale University in technical services"(Wahlda & Schiller, p.20, 1993). Another solution is regroup the current staff into broader groups, focusing on the separation of virtual and physical access of information. "The Information Access division would encompass, among other functions, cataloging and reference, while the Information Delivery division would include circulation and acquisitions"(Wahlda & Schiller, p. 20, 1993). Successful organizational structures will be less hierarchical, possibly even organic, so that they may change as technology changes. (Wahlda & Schiller, 1993).


Challenges in staffing involve changes in physical staff, virtual staff, and a new emphasis on training and development. The evolving technologies required to run a digital library require personnel with the expertise, time, and access to constant training to keep up with changes. Managers may build a dependency on out-of-house consultants or the local computer center (McDonald, 1990). Another possibility is that this dependency for the daily operation of the digital library may exist around one or two on-staff computer experts. "The increased degree of dependence . . . means that we have to approach matters differently than we have in the past. We can't rely on 'business as usual'"(McDonald, 1990, p. 153). Managers must work with these experts to prepare contingency plans and training in case of an emergency.

Users accessing a digital library will require assistance; however, the lack of the user's physical presence in the library makes this assistance much more difficult to give. In order to help on-line patrons in a manner consistent with traditional libraries, digital libraries will have to sponsor on-line librarians to assist those that need help (Campbell, 1994). Since the library has been the traditional place for non-school education, "librarians are assuming the responsibility for training users" (McClure, McKenna, Moen, & Ryan, 1993). Patrons are taught in public schools how to use the traditional physical library - those same patrons will need training to use the digital library. Librarians must take this training upon themselves - money and resources spent on the digital library are wasted without user training.

However, if user training is a critical need, then librarian training is imperative. "No longer operating from a known and accepted knowledge-base, librarians must teach sources and techniques that they have not even had the opportunity to apply in their own research" (Loomiss & Fink, 1993). This can be very frustrating for library staff who have been given a manual or told to learn to program by using it for a few hours. Managers of a digital library and their superiors must believe that staff development is highly important, and commit funding and time for this increased level of training (Tennant, 1995).

Managers need new tools for this increased level of training. They cannot, as in the past, depend on the library schools and previous work experience to train librarians. The challenge of this training is that it must not only be used to "keep up, but also to keep ahead in order to anticipate changing user requirements" (Loomis & Fink, 1993). This training, therefore, must be a continuing process that can be easily changed and expanded to reflect the new technologies. One way to do this is through modular training units that are available to use as time allows (Loomis & Fink, 1993).

One option is an in-house training program. However, a manager must be careful to select people that not only know the technology but also have the skills needed to train others. In fact, "a capable trainer can learn a topic more easily than an individual who knows the topic can learn to be a capable trainer" (Tennant, 1995, p. 47). Another option is outside training, through a vendor contract or special classes. Outside training can be very expensive, creates a further dependence on an outside organization, and may not be focused toward the precise needs of the librarians (Tennant, 1995). S. Davidsen (personal communication, July 12, 1995) said that she does "weekly technology updates, very informally, with our staff". Other possibilities are staff newsletters and encouragement of the use of electronic journals/discussion groups (Tennant, 1995). However, the rapid evolution of technology means any training utilized must constantly be updated to reflect changes. Davidsen (personal communication, July 12, 1995) stated that "The changes in IT [information technology] are so fast, sometimes I can't hold a training session in a new area quickly enough and my staff gets frustrated. So do I!"

For training to be accepted and successful, the staff members must take on an attitude of constant learning which can be a challenge for those set in their ways. The manager must be creative in developing training solutions that can be adapted to the changing technology and that will be accepted by those that can not or will not learn from traditional training methods. There are several ways to provide the needed knowledge, but no matter which is used, they all require time and resources that must be arranged by the manager.


Managers may have to adopt new directing skills to help calm staff fears about the technology. Some librarians have the concern that by furthering the digital or virtual library, they are putting themselves out of a job. However, according to Piggott (1993),

It seems, therefore, that until such time as computers are able of matching human
intelligence, and until such time as all the information required by a user is delivered at
his/her desktop at an affordable price, the role of the librarian in the process of managing
and imparting knowledge will remain central. (p. 210)
Managers can prepare their staff for these changes by developing a "trusting team environment built on organizational flexibility and deep staff understanding of the digitized information world" (Houweiling, 1994, p. 15). Training, development, and enthusiastic leadership will help those that are afraid of the new technologies (Davidsen, personal communication, July 12, 1995).


The final area of management that is affected by the digital library is controlling, which includes computer security, increased budgetary needs, and copyright issues. Security plays a very different role in a digital library. In the traditional library, physical materials can be protected through electronic devices and security guards. However, electronic material has weaknesses that print does not. A user could conceivably copy all of the materials in very little time and the digital library would not notice anything. That user could then publish the information for profit, having the source material provided free by their local library. This is a moral (and legal, in the case of copywritten material) issue that managers will have to deal with.

Another problem is the changing of materials. Mischievous hackers may download materials from a library, make changes, and break into the system and replace the information. Unlike with books, electronic information is simple to forge and changes can be undetectable. While this may not seem like the "usual" problem posed by hackers, such a change could disguise a virus as a downloadable picture, sound byte, or program. That data would then be propagated to unsuspecting users from a supposed safe place - the library. The library could then be held liable for these problems. Thus, managers will have to research security methods and possibly depend on outside help to protect their data.

A third problem involves incorrect or misleading information. Part of the goal of the digital library is the ability to connect users to many different information sources (Gapen, 1993). Immediate, inexpensive, risk-free publication is available to those that have a personal computer, an Internet account, and the know-how. In fact, most of the major on-line services now offer free areas and publishing software for their users to post any information they please. This low-cost easy direct access to publishing removes the role of validation that an editor and publisher played with printed material.

Thus, it is imperative that librarians in charge of the digital library must validate information before directing others to it, or provide a disclaimer that the documents the user is about to see has not been verified. An assumption is made about printed matter that cannot be made about unscreened electronic information - that the material has been screened for mistakes by a publisher and can be used as a dependable resource. Managers of a digital library must realize this possibility exists, and provide adequate warnings to users regarding unscreened material.

Budgetary issues that face a manager of a digital library include the need for additional funding and the question of cost-recovery. Due to the perception of the digital library taking over the jobs of librarians, administrators may believe that there will be a reduction in operating costs if they make the large initial investment to create a digital library. This is not the case, in fact, operating costs will be higher due to the high cost involved with the upkeep and update of hardware and software, training, and the hiring of highly skilled workers (Wahlde & Schiller, 1993).

There are several rebuttals to this concern. The first is education of administrators - teaching them that a digital library will allow you to provide more services and more access to information with the same number of staff. Initially, there may need to be temporary consultants hired to train staff and create the system. However, once the system is running, it is possible to be continued by the trained staff, bringing in consultants when the need arises. In fact, the library can give access to the same information to many more people simultaneously through a digital library services. The overall cost to the library per user is lower (Cloyes, 1994).

The problem with this is that many of those users will not be in the immediate locale as the library. Publicly funded libraries will have a difficult time justifying the expenditure of funds to support research done across the country or around the world. One possible solution is the sharing of resources between institutions (Mitchell & Saunders, 1991). This extension of interlibrary loan could work if libraries would agree to put databases that represent the subject matter their community specializes in online for others to use (Saunders, 1995). However, there will be those that access information who offer nothing for the digital library.

In addition, constraints may need to be developed for the digital library to prevent overutilization. In the traditional library, "these constraints are enforced by requiring patrons to physically go to the library, placing limits on the selection and number of books available, putting time limits and borrowing, and other subtle and overt restrictions" (Kurzweil, 1992, p. 63). One possible option is to charge a credit card or other electronic account for use of documents. Another would be to require a "membership" to the library if a user is not in the local area. This would serve to supplement funds for publicly-funded libraries.

There is heated debate on this issue carrying over from the debate regarding charges made by traditional libraries for their services - should digital libraries charge users directly for their services? A survey done in 1981 found that 86% of all academic libraries charged fees for electronic information. However, those fees went along with the assumption that the information was available in print form - the users were paying for the added value of obtaining electronic information (Sever, 1990). That assumption does not hold true with the digital libraries - some of the information is not available in print, such as the electronic Federal Register (Price, 1994).

Proponents of a fee-per-use system state that the as the digital library is centered around the user and not the collection, the users should pay for their services, especially if they do not support the library in some other fashion (Gilbert, 1993). Patrons will only utilize the services they need, and will see the value of library services. These fees could promote special services not normally offered by a digital library because of cost, and would bring the library into line with toll roads, museums, and parks that charge by the use. It would also bring the U.S. into line with other countries overseas that charge for many library services. Otherwise, overseas researchers may use free virtual libraries funded by the U.S., rather than pay to use their local libraries (Sever, 1990).

Other arguments for fees include the following by J. Gilbert (1993):

Most of the services provided by libraries, not only to their own users but also to external users, are heavily subsidized. Examples are: photocopying services (no surcharge for the costs of acquiring the original!); interlibrary loans and interlibrary copy services; and library membership for those outside the parent organisation [sic]. (p. 15)

It is also felt that a fee structure would improve management. If users are directly paying for a service, they will not be as patient with problems of organization, speed, holes in collection, and poor on-line help (Sever, 1990). Finally, a charge per use would help solve the copyright issues by allowing libraries to include royalties in their charges. (Gilbert, 1993).

Opponents of charging fees believe that the services are in the public good, and access to information is a constitutional right. Charging fees is discriminatory if the information is not available in print. If a public-supported digital library charges for use, taxpayers are having to pay twice to use the information (Sever, 1990). Fee-supported virtual libraries may drop services that were not popular and making money, thus making the digital library into another entertainment media. Thus, the information provided by the digital library would "ultimately tend toward highly digested news, tabloid sensationalism, video formats, and so on" (Hawkins, 1994, p. 32) instead of research material.

Other arguments against fee-charging include the fact that cooperation and resource-sharing would decrease amongst virtual libraries, as the library that provided access to the data would get the user's fee. The gap between the information-rich and information poor would widen further. Research would come down to only learning what one could pay for. As an example, "a medical researcher might make decisions based on only the first fifteen of seventy articles on a particular issue" (Hawkins, 1994, p. 29). Researchers would only look at information that definitely applied to their topic, as the charge will occur whether or not the information was valuable according to a draft of the European Community directive on the matter (Price, 1994).

B. L. Hawkins (1994) offers a solution to the cost recovery dilemma. He suggests that the digital library be organized by a non-profit corporation. This corporation would be a central information broker, negotiating services between libraries. It would eliminate duplication of effort by coordinating which libraries supply what sources. In addition, the corporation would propose and enforce standards for the digital library. This organization would be an independent third party used to bring the commercial on-line services and the digital libraries together, in order to establish boundaries of service. This type of non-aligned corporation is needed, according to Hawkins, to see that sharing is done properly, boundaries are observed, and information is available.

One final issue regarding control is copyright. Many digital library services currently only offer access to non-copywritten material, avoiding this problem (Davidsen, personal communication, July 12, 1995). The Library of International Relations, out of Chicago-Kent College of Law, offers a subscription to local law firms. "They cannot print paper copies of the digitized material, but the library will make copies of documents available for a service fee plus any copyright charges" (Cage, 1994, p. A27). Assuming the copyright laws don't change, managers of virtual libraries will have to find ways to pay royalties for use of copywritten materials.

B. L. Hawkins (1994) suggests working with publishers to arrange national or international site licenses. Such an arrangement would allow a library to let anyone access the information at no additional cost. The ideal form of this arrangement would allow a library to offer all works of a publisher, paying a yearly subscription fee. This would allow the digital library the budgeting comfort of a yearly cost, as compared to the unpredictable per-use cost. This type of arrangement has never been done before, and would take quite a bit of testing and forethought before being implemented (Hawkings, 1994).

K. Downing (1994) suggests "that now is the time to turn our eyes away from the issues of copyright and fair use and begin to focus on the need to fairly remunerate the creators and purveyors of information for the use to which it is put" (p. 37). She believes the music broadcasting industry provides the model needed for digital libraries. Similarities between a digital library and a radio station include the desire to allow all users access to information without user fees and the desire to compensate the authors and publishers.

There are some important differences between broadcasting and the digital library, however. These include the control of access to the information, the acceptability of advertising, and the commercial market for the information if it is also available on-line. While these differences mean that the virtual libraries cannot adapt this model directly, it can serve as a baseline to build from. The one problem to overcome is the fact that publishers want to have a secondary market for the information. In the music business, the fact that a song can be heard on the radio doesn't hurt the sales of the material. Some value must be added to material found on-line to make it attractive to consumers (Downing, 1994).

Thus, the copyright issues are going to play a large part in the success or failure of the digital libraries. Changing the copyright laws will be very difficult, and may end up stopping the creation of new material if the rights of the creator are not protected. If the libraries must pay per use of the material, they will have to recover those costs through user charges, advertisement, or more governmental funding (Hawkins, 1994). The digital libraries could reach an agreement with the publishers for a broadcast or international license (Downing, 1994; Hawkins, 1994). Whatever the solution, something must change. If not, the offerings of the digital library will be limited to that which is in the public domain, leaving very little for scholarly research.


In conclusion, there are many challenges facing the manager of a digital library. Planning must take the rapidly-changing technology into account. Organizational challenges will involve restructuring the traditional library to work better in serving the virtual users. Staffing will change, bring more technologically-minded people to the forefront of public service in the on-line world. In addition, training will become a major function of the manager's role. Directing will require enthusiasm and leadership, to help those that are not comfortable with technology support the digital library. Controlling will bring in higher security and access concerns, and budgetary matters will be more important than ever. Copyright issues are the main blockade to the continuation of the digital library. The main management problems and possible solutions have been condensed into Table 1. Managers should find the techniques in this table useful in planning, organization, staffing, directing, and controlling the digital library.

The author believes that three issues must be handled quickly and effectively to guarantee the success of a digital library. These three issues are:

* cost recovery - Due to high costs of managing technology, money must be made available for the project through increased funding or user charges to keep a digital library online. Education of administrators about services, resource sharing, and user charges are possible solutions to this problem.

* copyright issues - By ignoring copyright issues, virtual libraries will be limited to placing

only material in the public domain online. This severely limits the services that a virtual

library can offer in comparison to a traditional library. Lines of communication must be opened with publishers on this matter. Possible solutions involve charging users for royalties incurred, national or international licensing, or other reimbursement models based off of the broadcasting industry.

* training - This is the most pressing concern. As technology is rapidly changing, managers must commit funding and time to constant staff development. As many users are not computer literate, user training is also a critical need in order to allow equal access to virtual material. Constant training will allow a digital library to succeed, while a lack of training will bring about its failure. Methods of training involve workshops, newsletters, informal meetings, the use of electronic journals/mailing lists, online help, and computer-based modules.

Successful implementation of the digital library will guarantee the libraries a home on the Internet, and thus libraries may continue to fulfill their role as the main information providers in society. Managers of a digital library will need considerable assistance dealing with these and other problems created by the digital library . . they will need new techniques for a new technology.

Table 1

New Problems, Solutions, and Sources for the Manager of a Digital library

Problem Solutions Sources
Short-term survival planning takes precedence over long-term planning. Long-term plans must be flexible enough to encompass whatever new technologies are needed. Current technologies should not be listed in a long-term plan, as technologies change. Saunders,1995; Stahl, 1993
Public and Technical services are forced to work together on many services. The staff should be re-organized into broader groups or by subject. The organizational structure must be able to change to adapt to the new technologies. Wahlde & Schiller, 1993; Corbin, 1992
A dependency is built on technical support to run all functions of the digital library. Contingency plans must be made. The dependencies are unavoidable, so managers must prepare for them instead of avoiding them. McDonald, 1990
Virtual users need help with the use of the system along with traditional reference questions. Teams of on-line librarians from technical and public services must be supported to help the virtual user in a manner consistent with the support given in a traditional library. Other options involve on-line help and instructional modules. Campbell,1994; Loomis &Fink, 1993
Library staff is frustrated with the amount of new technology required to do their job as a virtual librarian. Training is essential. Management must commit the funds and time needed for ongoing modular training. This training can come from in-house experts, outside professionals, weekly meetings, newsletters, or electronic forums. Loomis&Fink, 1993;Hoffman, 1990;Tennant, 1995
Staff have fears about change and technology. Enthusiastic leadership is needed by management. The librarians must be encouraged that a role change from information guide to information manager is beneficial. Management must be understanding of these fears, and facilitate changes appropriately. Piggot, 1993;Weise, 1993;Houweiling, 1994;Manville, 1993;Stahl, 1993;Huston &Grahn, 1993
Data is broken into, changed, or tampered with. Outside help is needed in dealing with electronic security. Security plans should be in place before the digital library is opened. Local data security firms
Additional funding is needed. Administrators should be educated about the services available through the digital library and the effects it will have on the library staff. Plans for sharing resources can be worked out between institutions. Charge users a fee for digital library access. Cloyes, 1994;Mitchell &Saunders, 1991; Saunders, 1995; Sever, 1990; Price, 1994; Gilbert, 1993; Hawkins, 1994
Copywritten information cannot be placed online without permission. A royalty agreement could be worked out with the publisher, charging users for royalties incurred. A national or international site license could be arranged. A model could be created, using the broadcast industry's work with publishers as a base. Cage, 1994; Hawkins, 1994; Downing, 1994;


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